Mercury Week 8 Football Preview: Surprising Pottstown faces biggest challenge in Pope John Paul II

There’s no single secret to Pottstown’s turnaround this season.

The Trojans are finding ways to win games in which they were previously competitive by playing complementary football.

Last week was the defense’s turn, limiting Upper Perkiomen to 140 yards as the offense put up the only score needed in a 6-0 victory.

Standing at 4-3 (1-2 PAC Frontier), the Trojans need one more victory to assure a .500 or better campaign. The District 1-4A playoffs are well within reach as well, as Pottstown is in a three-team logjam with Bishop Shanahan and neighboring Pottsgrove for spots in the four-team field.

But they’re all chasing this week’s opponent, powerful and Frontier Division-leading Pope John Paul II (3-0 PAC Frontier, 7-0 overall), one of just a half-dozen unbeaten teams in District 1.

PJP and Pottstown square off on Friday at 7 p.m. at Grigg Memorial Field.

The Golden Panthers are doing it on all sides of the ball, allowing just under eight points per game with a stifling defense that’s given plenty of room to operate with an offense that was held to 22 points in their opener at 6A Chambersburg but has exploded for 35+ points in each game since.

Braden Reed is contributing to all three phases for the unbeaten Golden Panthers. He’s second in the PAC in receiving yards (31 catches, 599 yards, 8 TD), adding a pair of interceptions on defense while operating as the team’s primary kick returner and holder.

“He does a little bit of everything for us,” said coach Scott Reed.

Boyd Skarbek continues to pace PAC rushers with 1,115 yards and 17 rushing TD – an eye-popping 8.9 yards per carry – thanks to an offensive line powered by center Ignacio Escobar. The versatility of Denny Owens at wide receiver and tight end adds another element for junior quarterback Luke Terlesky (72 percent completions, 1,186 yards, 14 TD/ 5 INT).

Pottstown running back Nahzier Booker (4) takes a carry while getting a lead block from Dimark Lyons (3) during a game against Harriton on Sept. 8. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Pottstown’s offense is powered by senior running back Nahzier Booker, who last week added his second receiving touchdown – a 66-yard connection with quarterback Dillon Mayes – to go with 683 rushing yards and five scores. Booker is fourth in the PAC in rushing.

Last week was Mayes’ best day passing the ball, as the offense is highly run-based with a mixture of skill position players able to share the workload. To stay close with Pope John Paul, the Trojans must avoid the penalties and turnovers that have plagued the team in the recent past. Avoiding mistakes has been a theme throughout the 2023 season that’s put Pottstown in position to have an opportunity to pursue a signature win.

For the Golden Panthers, continued improvement is the theme for a team that’s been reminded that the goal is nothing less than a championship – in the PAC and District One.

“The goal every week is to continue to improve,” said Reed. “We cannot afford to go backwards or stay where we are. We have to push ourselves to continue to get better.”

(All times 7 p.m. Friday)

Spring-Ford (3-0 PAC Liberty, 6-1 overall) at Methacton (2-1 PAC Liberty, 5-2 overall)

The easy storyline would be concerns over a letdown after Spring-Ford’s 28-7 win over Perkiomen Valley last week. However, Methacton’s offensive improvement coupled with Spring-Ford’s own areas of focus ensure it won’t be a concern.

“We were not good on special teams, which is a concern right now,” said Rams coach Chad Brubaker. “We also were inconsistent offensively.”

Spring-Ford running back Jamal Lewis looks for a lane on a carry against Perkiomen Valley on Oct. 6 at Spring-Ford. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Jamal Lewis’ 132-yard outing kept SF on schedule offensively to complement another shutdown performance from the defense, who held PV to 107 yards of offense. This week’s challenge is stopping a revitalized Methacton passing attack. Starter Kolby Howarth set the table and backup Nick Remish delivered late (Howarth was knocked out of the game by a late hit) to give Methacton a come-from-behind 43-40 win at Boyertown last week.

“Spring-Ford is a very good football team, obviously the best we have faced this season,” said Warriors coach Brian Kennedy.

“But we need to line up and play in 2023. We cannot let what has happened in the past shape the way we enter the game. Our team needs to be mentally prepared.”

Perkiomen Valley (2-1 PAC Liberty, 5-2 overall) at Norristown (0-3 PAC Liberty, 0-7 overall)

The Eagles have their hands full as they look for a breakthrough win against a motivated PV squad.

For the Vikings, an offensive key will be developing chemistry and timing with a new starter in the likely absence of quarterback Patrick MacDonald, who left the game in the second half last week at Spring-Ford. The versatility of Robbie Sturges and Stephen Tracanna continues to pay dividends for the Vikings on both sides of the ball, and both will be looked to for leadership specifically on offense this week.

Defensively, Perk Valley looks to improve their tacking while increasing pressure on the quarterback. The Vikings secured a pair of sacks last week at Spring-Ford, but had several other opportunities get away.

Phoenixville (3-0 PAC Frontier, 6-1 overall) at Upper Perkiomen (0-3 PAC Frontier, 1-6 overall)

The Phantoms’ running game continues to impress with its prolificacy and consistency. Last week featured a fifth outing above 300 yards rushing in seven games this season, and the squad has yet to be held below 189 yards on the ground.

But last week, quarterback Ty Romance delivered a season-high 168 yards passing as the Phantoms continued improving their balance in a win over Pottsgrove. Three of Romance’s eight completions found pay dirt, as the running game put up 327 yards of its own.

Meanwhile, Zach Schwartz continued in his workhorse role with 20 carries for Upper Perk in a tough loss to Pottstown. The Tribe looks to move into the win column this week behind the aerial connection of Logan O’Donnell and Aiden Void.

Boyertown (1-2 PAC Liberty, 2-5 overall) at Owen J. Roberts (1-2 PAC Liberty, 5-2 overall)

The Wildcats got back on track last week with a 29-0 victory over Norristown but can feel significantly better about their postseason standing if they follow it up with a strong performance against Boyertown.

The matchup to watch will be the powerful Boyertown rushing game, featuring 1,000-yard back Cole Yesavage against Lorenzo Satiro and the OJR defense. The Wildcats’ shutout against Norristown was the second of this season and erased the bad taste of the previous week’s loss to Spring-Ford.

Offensively, OJR’s leading receiver Mekhi Graham displayed his versatility via a 150-yard rushing performance.

Upper Merion (1-2 PAC Frontier, 2-5 overall) at Pottsgrove (1-2 PAC Frontier, 3-4 overall)

The Vikings need a win to keep realistic chances of a District 1-5A playoff berth alive, but it won’t come easy at Pennypacker Field. Upper Merion has yet to beat Pottsgrove since entering the PAC in 2016.

“Our guys have to get past that mental block,” said UM coach Davis Chubb. “We can only be as good as our mindset against each opponent.”

Chubb placed that responsibility on an offensive line that’s continuing to build continuity through youth, injuries, and assorted challenges of a high school football season. “They’ll have to step up in order for us to get this one.”

Pottsgrove finds themselves in an advantageous position for the postseason should they be victorious on Friday. But securing this win is a critical first step, and senior leadership from Gabe Rinda, Bryce Caffrey, and others continues to be the key in building consistency and bouncing back from last week’s loss at Phoenixville.

Caffrey may be the PAC’s most versatile skill player, ranking in the PAC top 10 in both rushing and receiving this season.

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